Dutch institutions discuss creation of new ‘mega-university’

By Kanika Tandon, Education Writer
Big is seemingly the new beautiful in higher education. Following in the footsteps of institutions in Wales, France and Germany, amongst others, three of the Netherlands’ most prestigious universities are discussing the prospect of merging into one. The proposed ‘mega’ university will, it is thought, take the name of Leiden University, and would be made up of the current incarnation of that university along with Rotterdam Erasmus University and Delft University of Technology. The merger would take place over a period of 6-8 years.

With Leiden University (82) and Rotterdam’s Erasmus University (99) already in the Top 100 of the 2010 QS World University Rankings®, and Delft University of Technology not far behind at 108, this is a union of some of the Netherlands’ – and the world’s – strongest universities. The resulting entity will surely be formidable on the world stage.

However, how the deal will be executed legally and managed has still not been revealed. Talks between the Executive Boards of the three universities – during which all forms of possible collaboration will be discussed – are ongoing. A spokesperson from the University of Leiden said, “The three universities together represent a strong combination across a number of scientific and academic fields. Talks are at too early a stage to comment on the possible type of partnership, the timing or the name that will be given to any future collaboration.  All options currently remain open.”

Reports suggest that after the merger, the ‘new’ Leiden University would collectively have as many as 55,000 students and more than 11,500 staff, making it the largest in the country. The collective strength of the three universities in terms of research and teaching could well see the Netherlands’ prominent position on the map of international education providers further strengthened.

The nation already attracts more than 50,000 international students every year. Most of these students are from Germany, China, Belgium, Spain and France. A mega university would, it seems fair to presume, attract even more foreign students to the country.

Nannette Ripmeester, Managing Director of Expertise for Labour Mobility (an independent benchmarking and consultancy service in the education sector), refrains from calling it a merger and feels that the move will ‘enhance cooperation’ between the other Dutch higher education institutions. “More cooperation in the academic world is a positive development. It will create stronger scientific developments and, if done with the right intentions, will create a better learning environment too,” says Ripmeester.

However, as the teething difficulties of other merger projects have demonstrated, the project is unlikely to be straightforward. Ripmeester accepts that there will be obstacles to overcome, and that one way to do this is through integration and mergers of various departments. But she still feels optimistic about the ‘cooperation’ and says, “A large university does not necessarily have to mean a large-scale learning environment. It is more a matter of organization and giving priority to your learning objectives than being smaller or bigger.”

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